I’ve been writing about meaning, language, and media for communication recently. I said earlier that among the influences in my thinking were three talks given by Don Miller of Jazzy fame. I thought I would summarize some of the big ideas he gave there, and which I am installing in my thinking.
“Scripture marries truth to meaning”
Speaking of the Holy Writ, Miller argued that Scripture is far from a how-to manual or a bulleted list of instructions for living the good life. Instead, it was full of stories, poetry, and letters—human cultural products in which we communicate ideas in meaning-filled ways. The inerrant Scriptures instead take the truth of God and place it in meaningful contexts, creating an opportunity for truth to pass beyond propositional facts into our very hearts where relational knowledge resides.
Think about it: it is much harder to understand bare facts. “My father was born on October 3, 1951.” Will you remember that? No. Why? Because my father is not important to you. Why are women mad when men forget important birthdays and anniversaries? Because it suggests that it’s not meaningful or important to men. When something in meaningful to you, you remember it better. Where were you on September 11, 2001? You remember those sorts of date because they hold meaning for you.
When meaning is married with truth, truth becomes a part of ourselves.
“When we try to explain the meaning in technical language we lose the meaning.”
Technical language is found in owner’s manuals. It is a one-to-one correlation of facts. A bolt is a bolt. A screwdriver is a screwdriver. When we explain the facts in literal terms, we often lose the meaning.
Recently, I overheard a conversation about the chains of religion (not in that figurative language though.) A women was discussing how some saw religion as narrow and limiting to freedom, binding up life into harsh rules and now fun. Then she said, “It’s no different than financial freedom though. When you are responsible with your money and follow good habits in managing your finances, you gain financial freedom! You’re not continually strapped for cash, waiting for the next pay check, avoiding bill collectors’ calls.” But she wasn’t talking about financial planning at all. She was using it to help someone understand how the principles of the Christian faith can free us up to live as God made us to live: freely and responsibly. They are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually dependent.
Why do I remember that conversation out of the thousands I have had since? Because it was meaningful and communicated truth by similarity, not by technicality. Go ahead: try to explain that same truth about religion, without using evocative language...
“Boiling Scripture down to a bullet-point list of how-tos is like reducing a marriage to a list of required actions.”
- Caress your spouse twice a day.
- Say the words, “I love you” three times a day.
- Buy a card and flowers at least 3 times a year.
- Chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
- Requested gifts for Christmas and Birthdays.
This list is ludicrous. But that’s exactly what’s become of the words of God. Instead of being in love with God, we’ve got a list of action steps to take to make God love us more. If you loved God, you would do what he asked. Jesus said as much. Not only that, you’d be longing to do more, wanting to show God how much you love him; just like you do when you want to show your spouse you love them.
When we bullet-point the Scriptures, we reduce our love to a list. We forget how to love and find ourselves frustrated meeting even the most basic requests. This is why God says, “Love me,” first. The rest follows from that. Nothing else matters if you just checking them off the list. Love makes the list easy, even nonexistent. Love makes the basics not good enough because the lover wants to give more.
Miller said this a number of times, and I’m convinced that it is about as basic as you can get: “My job is simply to set you up on as many blind dates with Jesus as possible. And hope that cupid comes and nails you in the ass.”
I don’t know the Romans Road, or the 4 spiritual laws, or anything like that. But I think I could team up with Cupid and Jesus to knock you off your feet.